The Lamb and the 144,000

July 29, 2018

Norwalk First United Methodist Church

Revelation

10th Sunday after Pentecost

The Lamb and the 144,000

Revelation 14

          Our scripture reading today in chapter 14 of Revelation is a continuation of chapter 7. In chapter 7, God holds back the wrath that is about to befall the persecuted Christians in the Roman Empire long enough for them to be sealed. Listen to Chapter 7:1-4:

After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth, so that no wind would blow on the earth or on the sea or on any tree.

          And I saw another angel ascending from the rising of the sun, (This is the first of seven angels. The other six angels will be mentioned in Chapter 14. Remember, seven means whole or complete.) And I saw another angel ascending from the rising of the sun, having the seal of the living God; and he cried out with a loud voice to the four angels to whom it was granted to harm the earth and the sea, saying, “Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees until we have sealed the bond-servants of our God on their foreheads. And I heard the number of those who were sealed, one hundred and forty-four thousand sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel:”

This passage is important for us today. When we maintain our faith in Jesus Christ, God seals us through the indwelling of his Holy Spirit so that we are spiritually protected in times of trials, tribulations, and persecution. If you and I stay faithful to God and to Jesus Christ, when God’s judgment does finally come, you and I and all of God’s people will be ready. Our sealing means that we will not be removed from the presence of God, but that we will survive spiritually in the eternal heaven near the throne of God.

Folks, God’s promises always come true. The Roman Empire is in the dustbin of history, but the community of God, the Christian people, is still in this world. Christians are still making disciples of Jesus Christ and they are still transforming this world. God and his goodness and love will always prevail. God’s people will always win the war against evil. Would you pray with me?

PRAYER

When you get a chance this week, please reread chapters 7 and 14 as one visionary unit. I really enjoy these two chapters. We are assured of our sealing as God’s people, but we are also warned in chapter 14 of God’s mighty wrath to those who do not choose him.

In Chapter 7, God seals his people and that number is 144,000. We will talk about that number in a minute. When he does this, all of heaven breaks out once again in praise and worship. And then someone asks, “Who are these people?” Listen to the answer for the clue to the 144, 000 in Chapter 7, starting with verse 14. These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, (in other words, they are the ones who have suffered and endured the persecution of the Roman Emperor) and they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

Notice what it says here. “They have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb.” In other words, these people who have made it into heaven are the people, who on their own chose Jesus Christ as their Savior. These are the ones who have chosen to restore their relationship with God through the blood of Jesus Christ who died upon the cross.

And the passage continues: For this reason, they are before the throne of God; and they serve Him day and night in His temple: and He who sits on the throne will spread His tabernacle over them (John is saying, since they have chosen God, God will protect them). They will hunger no longer, nor thirst anymore; nor will the sun beat down on them, nor any heat; (this is referring back to the Jews when they were slaves in Egypt and it refers to us today when we have been freed from being slaves to sin and death) for the Lamb in the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and will guide them to springs of the water of life; and God will wipe every tear from their eyes. Folks, this refers to Jesus who gives us life and who gives us comfort.

When we have been sealed by God through choosing Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, we are guaranteed a place in heaven free of strife, stress, and sin, because our focus in entirely on the Lamb, Jesus Christ, who is at the center of heaven.

But there will only be 144, 000 witnesses, you say? How am I going to get in? Remember, the numbers in Revelation are symbolic. It was something that people understood in that day because apocalyptic literature was quite prevalent. Let me show you.

144,000 is a multiple of the numbers 12 and 10. Twelve, if you remember from our previous messages, means the people of God. The number 10 stands for inclusiveness. So if we write 144,000 this way: 12 x 12 x 10 x 10 x 10, some amazing things appear. Remember the twenty-four elders from last week who fell down before the throne of God and worshiped. Well we see that here. The people of God are represented by the 12 tribes of the Old Testament and the 12 disciples of the New Testament. So now we have the people of God before Christ and the people of God after Christ.

The number 10 represents inclusiveness and we have it written three times which is perfection. So 144,000 perfectly includes all the people of God who have professed faith in Jesus Christ and have remained faithful to God over all time. Therefore, you and I, if we profess faith in Jesus Christ, can be one of the 144, 000 witnesses or one of the people of God. There is room in heaven for all of us who believe.

Let’s move on to Chapter 14: Then I looked, and behold, the Lamb was standing on Mount Zion, and with Him one hundred and forty-four thousand, having His name and the name of His Father written on their foreheads. Remember from Chapter 7, that name is the seal of God that protects us. And I heard a voice from heaven, like the sound of many waters and like the sound of loud thunder, and the voice which I heard was like the sound of harpists playing on their harps. And they sang a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and the elders; and no one could learn the song except the one hundred and forty-four thousand who had been purchased from the earth. You and I can be part of this great choir in heaven singing praises to God. When we declare faith in Jesus Christ, we have been purchased, that is redeemed, through Jesus’ death. The penalty for our sins has been paid in full by Christ and we have the privilege of worshiping in that glorious place called heaven.

Our text continues in Chapter 14, verse 4: These are the ones who have not been defiled with women, for they have kept themselves chaste. These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever He goes. These have been purchased from among men as first fruits to God and to the Lamb. And no lie was found in their mouth; they are blameless. These two verses talk about the people who have not participated in pagan worship.      It was common for each city in the Roman Empire to have a temple to one of the Roman gods. Part of the worship experience was to go to the temple during lunch time, have a meal from the plentiful food offered to the gods, and then have a “good time” with one of the temple prostitutes. Of course, money was offered by the worshiper for all of this to support the temple. Having sexual relations with one of the temple prostitutes supposedly guaranteed that man’s family good fortune, increased fertility, and bountiful crops from the blessings of the gods.

But obviously, the Christians and the Jews abhorred this practice. Their allegiance was to the one and only true God. Therefore, you can now understand verses 4 and 5. Christians were those who kept themselves “chaste” and did not participate in the pagan worship practices.

As we continue in the passage, we come to the last six angels that we first heard about in chapter 7. The second angel mentioned in verse 6 is making a final plea as he spreads the eternal gospel of Jesus Christ for the people of earth to hear. If one doesn’t receive the good news and make this final decision for Jesus Christ, then the wrath and judgment of God will follow.

Verse 8, the third angel appears: Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great, she who has made all the nations drink of the wine of the passion of her immorality. Babylon was one of the first nations to capture the Jews. Now, Rome is referred to as Babylon, because it is basically holding the Jews and Christians as captives and persecuting them. Rome’s immorality has a great influence on the territories it has captured. But the Jews and Christians refuse to participate.

Verse 9, the next angel comes declaring: If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he also will drink of the wine of the wrath of God. The beast is the Emperor of Rome, Domitian. By this time, the Emperors of Rome considered themselves gods. They were addressed as Our Lord and Savior. Domitian made sure that a statue or an image of him was erected in each of the cities of the Roman Empire.

Once a year, each citizen, slave, and member of the Roman Empire had to go before the image of Domitian, bow down, and publicly declare him as My Lord and My Savior. The worshiper would then be given a certificate that would allow them to buy and sell in the marketplace because they were a loyal subject. This certificate was the mark of the beast, the Emperor, and had to be carried with that person. But Christians and Jews refused to bow down to the Emperor and were therefore excluded from commerce in the Empire. Their persecution was an economic persecution which led many of them to die of starvation and disease. But John is telling them here that if they persevere they will be honored in heaven. Here is the perseverance of the saints who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus. Write, “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on…so that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow with them. Those who worshiped the Emperor and the false gods would be sent away from the presence of God when they died.

As we continue in this heavenly vision that John is seeing in verse 14, the fifth angel comes out of the Temple of God and stands beside Jesus who is sitting on a cloud and who has a large sickle in his hand and says, Put in your sickle and reap, for the hour to reap has come, because the harvest of the earth is ripe. Then He who sat on the cloud swung His sickle over the earth, and the earth was reaped.

          Jesus was then joined by the last two angels who also called for the gathering of all of those who had worshiped the beast, the Emperor, to be gathered up and put into the great wine press of the wrath of God. And the wine press was trodden outside the city, and blood came out from the wine press, up to the horses’ bridles, for a distance of 1600 stadia. In this vision, God was telling John that he would intervene in the persecution that was taking place under the Emperor Domitian. God’s judgment would reach everywhere in the world. Sixteen hundred is a multiple of 4 and 10. Four represents the created order and 10, remember, represents inclusiveness. In other words, God’s judgment reached everywhere. God was bringing judgment upon the whole of Roman society for what they were doing to the Jews and Christians. And God kept his word, because one year later, in 96 A.D., Domitian died and the persecution and the Emperor worship stopped.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, here is what we can understand and learn from all of this. First, God is in control. No matter what trials, challenges, disasters, or failures we may have in life, God is ultimately in control. We may have the right to make choices about what we do, but God will control the final outcome. Good will triumph over evil and God will turn any misfortune created by us or by Satan into something that will ultimately bring glory to him. As we will learn in the last chapter of Revelation, God intervened in one of the worst persecutions of Christians in history and eliminated the source of the problem, the Emperor Domitian.

Second, you and I must remain faithful to Jesus Christ and to his teachings. We have learned from our scripture today that those who remain faithful to Christ throughout their persecution ultimately receive their reward, a place in heaven surrounding the throne of God giving unceasing praise.

Third, there will be a judgment. Jesus and his angels will call all men and women to account for their lives. Not for what they did or didn’t do as far as deeds here on earth, but for what choice they made concerning their relationship with Jesus. Those who choose Christ will be welcomed into heaven. Those who don’t or who make no choice at all, will as John says, be thrown into the great wine press of the wrath of God to be forever removed from the presence of God. This is called hell.

Revelation is a book of hope for those who remain faithful. But Revelation is a book to be feared if you don’t. Chose Christ and God will seal you with the Holy Spirit; but chose anything else, whether through your pride, self-centeredness, or stubbornness, and God will say, “I never knew you.” What is your choice? If you have not chosen Christ as your Lord and Savior, then you need to make that decision soon. What will your choice be?

My Heavens!

July 22, 2018

Norwalk First United Methodist Church

Revelation

9th Sunday after Pentecost

My Heavens!

Revelation 4-5

          Hollywood paints a wonderful picture of heaven for us, doesn’t it?  As the camera pans into heaven, the Pearly Gates open wide. Saint Peter is standing at the gate motioning us in with a warm smile and a friendly greeting. We see streets paved with gold and angels relaxing beside cool streams of water strumming their harps. We see floating about the clouds angels dressed in long flowing white robes with large wings. We see a grand palace, the throne room of God. But even though no one has ever seen God, Hollywood certainly knows how to cast him. God comes to us as Morgan Freeman or George Burns or Graham Chapman of Monty Python.

We also see thousands of people, our loved ones, looking down on us from their big screen televisions. People we have known in the past are there to greet us. We see angel messengers flying between heaven and earth to deliver messages from God. Have I touched on some of the things you have in your mind about heaven? I think we all have some picture of what heaven is like.

Here in chapters four and five of Revelation we get a chance to read and hear John’s vision as he was allowed a glimpse into heaven. We are transported from the praising and scathing letters to the seven churches in Asia Minor in 95 A.D. to the innermost throne room of God, to “the things which will take place after these things,” John tells us.

After these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven, and the first voice which I had heard, like the sound of a trumpet speaking with me, said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after these things.” Immediately I was in the Spirit and behold, a throne was standing in heaven, and One sitting on the throne.

My Heavens, folks! You and I get to peer into the throne room of God! God knows that we have to begin our Revelation story with the end in sight. He wants the Christians to know that heaven awaits them for persevering and maintaining the faith. The Christians in 95 A.D. were suffering great persecution and many times death. Jesus is about to reveal to John in chapters 6 to 20 the horrible trials and tribulations that the Christians of the Roman Empire under Emperor Domitian would face before God would intervene in their suffering and bring the persecution to an end. Revelation is a book of hope to a people under siege. Those people needed to know that if they were martyred and had stayed faithful to Jesus Christ, they would certainly see the throne room of God. You and I get to look at it today. Would you pray with me?

PRAYER

Bill Crockett tells of the time he was delivering a motivational lecture to a group of young Navy men. “I spoke in great detail about why I joined the military and how much it meant to me. Finishing my story, I pointed at a sharp looking sailor out in the audience and asked him why he decided to go to sea.”

“Well, Chief,” he said, “my old man’s a farmer. And when he put lights on the tractor, I knew it was time to leave the farm.” That sailor knew how to read his future. He knew his future because he watched his dad. And what his dad did revealed to him his future and the decisions he had to make.

As our scripture opens today, God is revealing to John future things and the first thing on which John focuses is the Father. When we focus on the Father, we know what decisions we have to make. And so the throne of God is mentioned no less than eleven times in Chapter 4. And the one who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian. A rainbow, resembling an emerald, encircled the throne. John could only describe the one sitting on the throne in terms of brilliant gems. The jasper represented God’s holiness and the carnelian, which is red in appearance, represented God’s wrath. And does the rainbow sound familiar? It represents the covenant with Noah. It is God’s mercy poured out to us.

Around the throne were twenty-four thrones; and upon the thrones I saw twenty-four elders sitting, clothed in white garments, and golden crowns on their heads. These twenty-four elders represent the two covenants of God, the old covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and the new covenant that is in Jesus Christ. Twelve of the elders represent the twelve tribes of the Old Testament and the other twelve elders represent the twelve disciples of the New Testament. The number “twelve” is symbolic and represents the people of God. This number is mentioned in different multiples of twelve throughout Revelation. So these twenty-four elders represent all the people of God both before and after the time of Christ.

We then see God’s presence and majesty as represented by the flashes of lightning and sounds and peals of thunder that emanate from the throne and we see the presence of the Holy Spirit near the throne represented by the seven lamps of fire. I think we can just imagine John’s senses being overloaded as this scene unfolds before him. And in the center and around the throne, four living creatures full of eyes in front and behind. The first creature was like a lion, and the second creature like a calf, and the third creature had a face like that of a man, and the fourth creature was like a flying eagle.

Each of these four creatures represents the best of God’s created order and are right out of Ezekiel, chapter 1. The lion is the noblest, the ox is the strongest, the man is the wisest, and the eagle is the swiftest in all of God’s creation. Covered in eyes they are full of the knowledge of the created order and see everything. In other words, all of creation surrounds the throne of God and worships him day and night with the words, Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God, the Almighty, who was and who is and who is to come.

And each time the creatures worship God, the twenty-four elders, representing all of God’s people, fall down and cast their crowns before the throne. This is also symbolic. When the Roman Emperor’s army conquered another nation’s army, the conquered king would come before the general, fall down prone in front of him and place his crown at the general’s feet. It was a total act of submission. The elders falling down before the throne of God represent the people of God recognizing God as Lord and Conqueror and Creator of all things as they sing: Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created. The praise never ceases.

          If we stop here for a moment and review chapter four, it speaks volumes for us today. John is showing us how we can overcome the trials and tribulations that all of us face at one time or another in our lives. Look at what they are doing in heaven. All creation and all people are singing praises to God. All creation and all people are worshiping the Father. All creation and all people are focusing their attention on God, the God of power, holiness, wrath, mercy, majesty, and might. Everything in heaven is centered on the throne of God which sits in the midst of all creation and of all people.

Why is this? Because when our attention is focused on God, offering him all of our praise and worship and submitting ourselves to his glory and majesty, then we are not focusing on our own circumstances, difficulties, failures, and tragedies. When we learn to worship and praise God as those in this heavenly throne room do, then we are focusing on the God who has the power and the desire to lift us out of our despair and hopelessness. God has always been there for us in the past, he is here in the present, and he will be there in the future when we need him. He will never leave us or forsake us, even in our darkest moments if we keep our attention on Him and cast our crowns of pride, self-centeredness, and selfishness before him. God is worthy to receive our glory and honor and praise.

As we move into chapter five, a great scroll is produced that is written on both the inside and on the outside. Since scrolls were usually only written on the smooth inside, this scroll is very important indeed. Its contents are sealed, with seven seals, that is, completely sealed, so that its contents are hidden from John’s view. And only one person in all of the universe is able to come forward and open the scroll. Behold, the Lion that is from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has overcome so as to open the book and its seven seals.

Now John is expecting to see Christ as a mighty lion, a strong and noble conqueror, but instead he sees something else. And I saw between the throne…and the elders a Lamb standing, as if slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God. Instead of a lion, John sees a lamb. Symbolically, Christ is the lamb offered to us as a sacrifice in place of what should be our eternal death. It is the same lamb that was offered to Abraham as a sacrifice instead of his son Isaac, a foreshadowing of things to come. Remember, seven means “all” of something. The seven horns represent all the power of God. The seven eyes represent all the knowledge of God, and the seven spirits represent all that is the Holy Spirit.

John is able to see the whole power, knowledge, and spirit of Jesus Christ in this lamb, because the might of Christ is the power of love. The might of Christ is in his perfect sacrifice for us. And as soon as Christ takes the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders once again fall down before the Lamb and offer prayers, incense, and song to the one most worthy to judge all of creation. Listen to their song:

You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, [You see, Jesus’ death was sacrificial for us.] and with your blood you purchased men for God [Jesus’ death was emancipating for us, that is, it freed us from sin and death.] from every tribe and language and people and nation.[Jesus’ death was universal. It was for every man and woman on this earth from all time.] You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth. [Jesus’ death was availing, that is, it gives each one of us the chance to be a minister of the Word and to bring the things of heaven to earth.]

And if John was not already seeing and hearing enough in heaven, thousands upon ten thousands of angels join in, encircling the already large chorus singing the praises of Christ. Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing. Once again we hear seven words that represent Christ’s glory and the fullness of praise: power, riches, wisdom, might, honor, glory, and blessing.

And if that were not enough praise to God and Christ, added to the four creatures, the twenty-four elders, the thousands upon thousands of angels, was the praise of every created thing which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth, and on the sea, and in the sea! To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever.

What a tremendous praise and worship of God and of our Christ who is Lord and King! Can you see the multitudes, stretching as far as the eye can see, all turned to the center of heaven, eyes fixed upon God and Christ? Can you hear the multitudes, singing in unending praise, the glory which is God and Christ? Can you feel the power of the presence of the spirits, which represent all of God’s created universe, directing their worship to the one who is above all else, the one who is to be glorified because of his holiness and his sovereignty?

Brothers and sisters in Christ, you don’t have to imagine what heaven is like. John has seen it and he tells you right here. Our lives are to be focused on God’s position, on God’s power, and on God’s perfection. God is the ruler over all the universe. He is the only one with the power to create, with the power to judge, and with the power to bring life and death. He is the holiest of the holy, perfect in every way, completely and totally pure, the embodiment of perfect love.

Let this picture of heaven and the ringing of praise in your ears stay with you. I believe it is what God wanted John to experience first before he showed him the terror and the trials that would be let loose on the Christians by the Roman Empire before God would intervene. God wanted John and us to know that no matter the difficulties, failures, and tragedies that might come our way, with faith in Jesus Christ and with keeping our focus on God, we can and will survive to witness the perfect praise and glory that can only be found in heaven.

But you need to tell your friends and family this, while we are still on earth, we get a chance to prepare ourselves for an eternity of worship in heaven. My, heavens! We get the opportunity to come here every Sunday to train ourselves for heavenly worship and to drive into our hearts, that the only sure power we have to face the fears and anxieties of this world, is to focus on the Father and upon his throne. Who needs Hollywood? We have John’s magnificent vision of heaven!

And the four living creatures kept saying, “Amen.” And the elders fell down and worshiped. Folks, come to worship, come to submit yourself to God, come to focus your eyes on the center of all things, the throne room of God. Once again, read the words of John in Chapter 4 and 5 and say, “Amen. Worthy are You, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power. Amen.”

 

 

Good News, Bad News

July 15, 2018

Norwalk First United Methodist Church

Revelation

8th Sunday after Pentecost

Good News, Bad News

Revelation 1:9-2:7

          We have all heard them, haven’t we? The bad news, good news jokes. I find them pretty funny.

Wife:          I have some good news and some bad news.

Husband:   What’s the good news?

Wife:          The good news is I found a picture that’s worth

$500,000.

Husband:   Wow! That’s wonderful! What’s the bad news?

Wife:          The bad news is that the picture is of you and your

secretary!

Now that’s a sharp wife! Here’s another one:

Lawyer:     I have some good news and some bad news.

Client:        Well, give me the bad news first.

Lawyer:     The bad news is that the DNA tests showed that it was

your blood they found all over the crime scene.

Client:        Oh, no! I’m ruined! What’s the good news?

Lawyer:     The good news is your cholesterol is down to 130!

The good news and the bad news, that is really what Chapters 2 and 3 are all about in the book of Revelation. Some churches received good news. Some churches received bad news. All thought they were healthy and doing well for the cause of Christ. But Jesus’ definition of success is often quite different from ours. Jesus’ message to the churches can seem harsh, but then, no church can ever completely measure up to what Jesus wants.

Today we read that the Apostle John is to write a letter dictated by Christ and to send it around to the seven churches in Asia Minor. I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like the sound of a trumpet, saying, “Write in a book what you see, and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea.”

Once again, the number seven in Revelation represents completeness, wholeness, the “all” of something. There were far more than seven Christian churches in Asia Minor and so this letter is a letter to all churches, not just the seven mentioned. Every church today has something to learn from this letter John wrote. The good news is that Jesus cares about his churches. The bad news is that Jesus knows what is going on in his churches and must at times discipline them. Would you pray with me?

PRAYER

John paints us a magnificent picture of Jesus standing among his churches as our scripture opens. Parts of this description of Christ can be found near the opening lines of each letter to the seven churches in chapters 2 and 3. Listen again to John’s description of Jesus that he saw in his vision: I saw one like a son of man, clothed in a robe reaching to the feet, and girded across His chest with a golden sash. [This is Jesus as prophet, priest, and king. It continues.] His head and His hair were white like white wool, like snow; and His eyes were like a flame of fire. His feet were like burnished bronze, when it has been made to glow in a furnace, and His voice was like the sound of many waters. John is giving us a picture of the Ancient of Days right out of the Book of Daniel.

Listen to Daniel 7:9-10: I kept looking until thrones were set up, and the Ancient of Days took His seat; His vesture was like white snow and the hair of His head like pure wool. His throne was ablaze with flames, its wheels were a burning fire. A river of fire was flowing and coming out from before Him; thousands upon thousands were attending Him, and myriads upon myriads were standing before Him; The court sat, and the books were opened. Jesus is at the throne of God and ready to make judgment upon the churches in Asia Minor. He is the Ancient of Days who knows everything. The words that will come out of Jesus’ mouth are a two-edged sword, capable of praising and lifting up and capable of disciplining and destroying.

As a church, we must remember that Jesus is the one to whom this church or any church belongs. Jesus is the head of the church. As the head of the body, the church, it is Jesus to whom we owe our faith, our praise, and our service and to no one else. It is Jesus who stands tall among the churches and to whom all the church ministries should point and adore.

Each church that is mentioned in chapters two and three of Revelation is represented in chapter one by a golden lampstand. Chapter 1, verses 12 and 20: Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking with me. And having turned I saw seven golden lampstands…and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.

The church as the body of Christ is a brilliant light in a sinful and darkened world. The lampstand is a fitting representation of the church as it draws people to its healing light and to its warm comfort. But isn’t that what a church should be? Jesus, as he stood among the lampstands, his churches, knew that some churches were doing their righteous work while others were not. Some of the churches were faithful in their teaching and in their practices. Others were not. And so, Jesus begins to run down the list of good news and bad news to the churches of Asia Minor, a list we may even be able to recognize in some of our churches today.

In your bulletin is a chart outlining the seven churches mentioned in Revelation 2 and 3. Use it this week as you read through the chapters. Jesus gives each church a progress report listing their accolades, their needs for correction, a solution or prescription for that correction, and a special reward if they follow Jesus’ advice. Sixty years after his death and resurrection, Jesus was giving the churches a progress report.

As a church, we need to discern what God and Jesus Christ are telling us about our church and our progress. What are we doing well? What do we need to correct? What and who will help us with those corrections?

In the meantime, we can learn a lot from the seven churches in Revelation. By the way, these seven churches, in the order in which they are mentioned, were the main stopping points on the Roman mail route around Asia Minor. The mail came into the water port in Ephesus and continued on the roads to each of these cities until it reached Laodicea.

Now there were only two churches who received nothing but praise from Jesus, the churches of Smyrna and Philadelphia. Both churches were somewhat poor and weak and yet they were great in Jesus’ eyes. Smyrna meant “myrrh,” a healing oil and Philadelphia meant “city of brotherly love.” It’s a known fact throughout the Bible that God used the weak and the poor because they were much more willing to depend on God for their power. The Christians of Smyrna and Philadelphia persevered in their faith despite their poverty, their persecution, and their suffering.

What else do we have to learn that is pleasing to Jesus? The Church of Ephesus did great deeds. It toiled and persevered rooting out evil men and identifying false prophets. The Church of Pergamum remained strong and did not deny the name of Jesus Christ despite all the people who were being martyred there. And the Church of Thyatira was known throughout the region for its works of love, faith, and service.

These things are important to Jesus: doing good deeds for others, working hard in bringing people to Christ, persevering despite setbacks and hard times, praising Jesus name when it might not be the most popular thing to do, showing love to the least, the lost, and the lonely, observing the Word of God as the final authority in our lives, keeping the faith and not denying Jesus name among the faithless in a faithless world, and not tolerating evil among us. You see, that’s the good news. That’s the good news of Jesus Christ that is good news for all of our churches today. To Jesus, churches are alive and healthy when they practice these things. But we are also to beware and learn from the bad news.

Laodicea was the only church for which Jesus had no praise. Jesus said it was a lukewarm church. Chapter 3, verses 15-16: I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth.

Laodicea was an interesting city. It was a center of trade and communication. In addition, its wealth came from the production of a fine quality of famous glossy black wool. The city’s banking assets were noteworthy. Laodicea also had a school of medicine, especially noted for its eye and ear ointments. If fact the city was so wealthy that when a devastating earthquake rocked the city in 17 A.D., the people refused imperial help in rebuilding the city, choosing rather to do it entirely by themselves.

The city of Hierapolis was seven miles north of Laodicea and was noted for its hotsprings. The hot springs ran downhill toward Laodicea and by the time the water arrived, it was lukewarm and full of minerals. Less than ten miles to the south was the city of Colosse with a cool artesian water supply that was carried via aqueducts to the city of Laodicea. By the time the water arrived, it was barely cold. Despite all of its wealth, Laodicea had such a poor water supply that it caused many people to vomit when the water was ingested.

The lesson was this. There were really no notable achievements or excesses to distinguish Laodicea from the other cities. It was a city with a people who had learned to compromise and accommodate themselves to the needs and wishes of other people. In fact, Laodicea means “people rule.” They did not zealously stand for anything. Christ detested Laodicea for taking an attitude of apathy and compromise. They sought easy accommodation and peace at any cost. To be a Christian means to be useful to Christ and this city was anything but. It was lukewarm. Jesus wanted the city to repent.

The bad news is that Christ has no use for churches that have no use for him, that do not follow his Great Commission of making disciples, teaching, and baptizing in his name. You see, the church in Ephesus had forgotten to love Christ first. The church in Pergamum was following the teachings of the Nicolaitans, something like us following the Jehovah’s Witnesses or the Mormons, instead of the teachings of Christ. The church in Thyatira was letting a woman named Jezebel lead them into all kinds of acts of immorality and eating things sacrificed to idols, while the church in Sardis was just plain dead.

Unfortunately, you and I know there are a few churches out there which could easily fall into anyone of the bad news categories I listed above. They are churches which no longer have Christ as their focus and the Word of God as their rule of measure. They have forgotten they are the body of Christ and are to be in service to its head, Jesus himself. They have allowed the secular world to form, govern, and compromise their once sacred faith. That is the bad news. In fact, it is the terrible news. It can happen to any church very quickly and we here at Norwalk must always be on guard against apathy, against self-centeredness and self-caring, and against self-righteousness. We should be reaching out to others.

Art Gallery Owner:     I have some good news and some bad news.

Artist:        What’s the good news?

Gallery Owner:  The good news is that a man came in here today

asking if the price of your paintings would go up after you

die. When I told him they would, he bought every one of your paintings.

Artist:        That’s great! What’s the bad news?

Gallery Owner:  The bad news is that man was your doctor!

Jesus stands among our churches. He is the doctor of the faith. He knows our healthiness and our sickness. He will praise us and bless us when we are focused on him and doing the work he has commanded us to do. But you better believe he will correct us and admonish us when we are not. His prescription for the churches that were sick was to repent and do the good deeds they were doing when they came to Christ. Jesus’ prescription was for the churches to remain faithful. His prescription was to strengthen the things they were doing well and to keep their focus on Him.

You see, if we stay faithful to Christ and obey his commands our rewards will be great. We will get to eat of the tree of life in the Paradise of God. We will get the crown of life and the hidden manna, the Word that will feed us. We will get protection when the hour of testing will come upon the whole world. If we stay faithful to Christ, we will be granted the honor of sitting with Christ on his throne.

The churches of the world need to hear the good news and the bad news that is in the book of Revelation. Our church needs to hear the rewards of the good news and the punishments of the bad. This is what keeps us faithful in Christ. This is what keeps us reaching out to this community and to this world. This is what keeps us loving God and loving our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.

He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. Amen.

A Voice and a Vision

July 8, 2018

Norwalk First United Methodist Church

Revelation

7th Sunday after Pentecost

A Voice and a Vision

Revelation 1:1-8

          For the next four weeks, we will be peering into the book that seems to strike fear into even the most courageous Christian men and women, the Book of Revelation.

But the Revelation to St. John, who was exiled to the island of Patmos, off the coast of Asia Minor, is a book not to be feared, but a book to be cherished. Revelation brought hope to Christians in the midst of terrible trials, persecution, and tribulations around 95 A.D. during the reign of Emperor Domitian. You see, Revelation is not a book about the end times, it is a book about the time of the end; the time of the end of the persecution, when God would miraculously intervene in the affairs of men and women on earth and bring an end to the persecution.

This book of Apocalyptic Literature is laced with signs, numbers, and symbols that were very common from 200 B.C. to 100 A.D. when Apocalyptic Literature was written. There is nothing secret or hidden in this book. Men and women of that time understood the meaning of the signs, numbers, and symbols. And what is more important, John’s prophecy in Revelation came true. God did intervene in the Christian persecution. The Emperor Domitian died a little more than a year after Revelation was written and the Christian persecution ended.

Biblical prophecy is God’s truth yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Biblical prophecy is God truth that explains the past, interprets the present, and guarantees the future. John even tells us this in the outline of the book in Chapter 1, verse 19: Therefore, write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after these things. In other words, John tells us about the things we will see in Chapter 1, the things which are in Chapters 2 and 3, and the things of the near future, that is 96 A.D., which are in Chapters 4 through 22.

Our next four weeks are going to be exciting weeks as we apply the prophecies of Revelation to our Christian living today. Don’t be afraid of Revelation. You will not find the rapture mentioned anywhere in the book. You will not find the great battle of Armageddon fought anywhere in the book. You will not find the end of history and time anywhere in the book. After all, the world continued to exist after 96 A.D., didn’t it?

What you will find in this amazing book is Jesus, who was predicted in the Old Testament, revealed in the New Testament gospels, proclaimed in the Acts of the Apostles, explained in the letters of Paul and others, and finally, anticipated in the Revelation. Revelation is the voice of God bringing a vision of hope amidst very trying circumstances; it is a voice and a vision. Would you pray with me?

PRAYER

The first three verses of Revelation are the Prologue to the book. John is telling us from whom this revelation came. Listen to it again: The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him [meaning Jesus] to show to His bond-servants, the things which must soon [Notice it says “soon.” Soon in apocalyptic literature means just that, in a year to several years, that is, during the lifetimes of the recipients of the letter.]…the things which must soon take place; and He sent and communicated it by His angel to His bond-servant John. This revelation you and I are about to read was communicated from God to his Son, Jesus Christ, who sent the message through one of his angels to John. John was then to write the churches in Asia Minor what the angel told him.

John wanted the churches in Asia Minor to understand the origin and content of his letter. It was not just a letter from John. It was a letter from the very head of the Church himself, Jesus Christ. This was a letter to be heeded. It was a letter that was truth.

And then in verse three, we read the first of the seven beatitudes in Revelation. The number seven is a prominent number throughout this book. It is a perfect number that symbolized completeness or wholeness. These beatitudes will comprise the complete wisdom of God’s prophecy to John. Verse 3: Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of the prophecy, and heed the things which are written in it; for the time is near.

This threefold blessing, or beatitude, tells the reader that what you are about to read is very important. You are to read it, you are to hear it, and you are to heed it, that is, do something about it. This letter will be important to your future as a church. This letter will be important to your own soul. Is this not true for us today? Should we not be sharing all of the scriptures this way?

What Jesus said to us while he was on this earth and what was recorded in this Bible are important for us to read and important for us to hear. But Jesus says there is more. We are to “heed the things which are written.” In other words, we need to take action. We need to change our behaviors. We need to change our attitudes. We need to change our relationships, so they are more like those of Jesus. This is what Jesus wanted for the seven churches in Asia Minor and this is what Jesus wants for our church.

Jesus wanted the churches of Asia Minor to rethink church. He wanted them to realize what their strengths and weaknesses were so that the inhabitants of those cities and all the cities in the Roman Empire would realize their need for a vibrant Christian worshiping community.

What if we rethink church? Not in terms of what it is, but what it could be. What would it look like? What would it feel like? What if all of our churches were vibrant, active places where people wanted to be, not just on Sundays, but all week long?

What if church were not just a place we go, but something we do? What if we were to go beyond the doors of the church to serve those in the world who are in need? What if we were able to engage the world through our faith? What if church were a verb? What if church meant action? We currently have a healthy church, but its health needs to be maintained. We have a healthy church, but we need to have a vibrant church in this mission field where we are planted. It is time to rethink church. In essence, that is what Jesus was telling the churches in this Revelation letter.

John heard the voice and saw the vision. The voice and the vision were that of a king, a ruler, the glorified Jesus Christ. It was the triumphant Jesus who is now head of the church. John wanted the churches to know that this letter was from God the ruler, from the Seven Spirits, meaning the perfect Holy Spirit, and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. It is the Spirit and the Christ of a vibrant Christian community. Churches then and churches now are losing their focus on Jesus as the head of the church.

Would you turn with me in your Bibles to Isaiah 11:2? Before we look at John’s description of the glorified Christ in verses 5 – 8, let’s take a moment to identify the seven spirits. These are the seven Spirits about which John writes in verse 4. Please follow along as I read. Isaiah 11:2:

The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him – [“him” meaning the Messiah] the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord – These are the seven Spirits: the Spirits of the Lord, of wisdom, of understanding, of counsel, of power, of knowledge, and of fear of the Lord. It is these seven Spirits which comprise the Holy Spirit, the perfect Spirit, the Spirit which is Jesus Christ living in our hearts.

This is powerful stuff. The Holy Spirit needs to be an active part of everything we do in this church. The Holy Spirit needs to be a part of everything we are doing in the First United Methodist Church. The Holy Spirit needs to be flowing out these doors and sweeping this community and ultimately the world. But how are we as the body of Jesus Christ going to do this? John says this, “Do it through the risen Christ who sits at the right hand of the throne of God.”

Verse 5-6: Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To Him who loves us and released us from our sins by His blood – and He has made us to be a kingdom, priests to His God and Father – to Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen. Our message, folks, to this community and to this world is Jesus Christ. It is the only message that releases us from our sins. It is the only message that saves us. It is the only message that people will understand as Jesus’ love flows through us and out into this community.

Romans 8 says this: If God is for us, who can be against us? [God] who did not spare his own Son, but gave him for us all – how will he not also, along with [Jesus], graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died – more than that, who was raised to life – is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?…No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through [Jesus] who loved us.

          John is saying in this letter that Jesus loves us. He loves us so much that he died and spilled his blood to wash away our sins, so that everyone who proclaims the name Christian, can be a priest in this world. John is saying, through Jesus Christ, every Christian now has access to God. No longer is the Temple High Priest needed, because we each have entrance into the throne room of God.

You see, the mission for this church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. That is the mission of this church: to give every unbeliever in this community the chance to read the Word of God, the chance to hear the Word of God, and the chance to heed the Word of God. That is the mission of this church: to give every unbeliever the choice to become a Christian, to be a priest, to have access to God. That is the mission of this church: to hear the voice of Jesus and to have the vision of “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

And lastly, in verse eight, God says,: “I am the Alpha and the Omega, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” God is the beginning and end of all things. He is the same yesterday, today, and for all eternity. As a church, we need to be focused on Jesus as we join the Almighty in his work in this community. And we can discern that work through the spirit, wisdom, understanding, counsel, strength, knowledge, and fear which are the seven spirits of the Holy Spirit.

As we, the body of Christ, rethink First United Methodist Church, I am asking you to listen for the voice of Christ in your life and to see the mission God has for you as we move from these building walls and into a spiritually dark world in need of Jesus’ love. Church is no longer a noun. It is a verb, an action that needs to be lived out in this community. Church is a verb that needs to be lived out in you and me. Let God know. Let me know. Let our church community know how you are going to live out the love of Jesus. What will be your ministry? About what are you passionate? What breaks your heart and moves your spirit?

No longer is church just for Sunday. No longer is church just a rear end in a pew. Church should be what we do Monday through Saturday. And then on Sunday, we come to celebrate.

John heard the voice and saw the vision. Jesus is coming! We at Norwalk are hearing the voice and getting a glimpse of the vision. Jesus is coming to this community and we had better be ready. Jesus is doing mighty work! “Behold, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him…So it is to be. Amen.”